I will never forget my first field trip to the Georgia coast.

Growing up near Augusta, Georgia, I always loved being outside and observing. The natural environment was a happy place where I could simply be, observe and let nature reveal itself. Yet, until a high school field trip to the Georgia coast, I did not know that I could have a career interpreting the intricacies of the natural world (or that I would be working as a Marine Education Fellow for UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant today)!

I experienced a lot of firsts during that field trip, which took place my sophomore year of high school. I witnessed the beauty of live oak limbs draped in Spanish moss, the exhilaration of a boat ride to a far-off island and the joy of seeing a new insect for the first time. My teachers who led the field trip fostered a learning environment invigorated by their curiosities and enthusiasm; to them, every organism was a learning opportunity—a chance to observe, be curious and ask questions. They inspired me not only to ultimately attend the University of Georgia to study ecology and art but to become an educator, providing similar experiences for students on the Georgia coast.

Their teaching approach was not that their students would be able to name every organism that they saw but to have my classmates and I notice, describe and discover patterns that might apply to other organisms or processes. Their subtle teaching style centered around three questions:

  • What do you notice?
  • What do you think?
  • What does all this mean, and what are you going to do with it?

And now as a Marine Education Fellow with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, I have had the opportunity to foster a similar learning environment at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island. During this fellowship, I have led K-12 field trips teaching classes ranging from maritime forest hikes to squid dissections, created an outreach activity all about frogs and their lifecycles and even been able to monitor breeding bird nest boxes on campus. I also had the unique opportunity to work with another Marine Education Fellow, Chanté Lively, to produce a virtual and in-person outreach program centered around marine debris and coastal ecosystems for local middle school students.

Yet, I always love when a field trip group comes. I get to watch kids who have never experienced the full breadth of Georgia’s coastal ecosystems before uncover all the little wonders encapsulated within our forests and waters. I know that cultivating wonder and joy for life outside of oneself (whether it be a rough green snake, skeleton shrimp or pickleweed) often brings resilience to weathering the ups and downs of life. I hope that by guiding students who visit the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium through the learning process, I can not only strengthen their resilience and critical learning skills but help them discover their own passions as well.

One field trip to the Georgia Coast altered the trajectory of my interests and future career. I know that I would not be who, or where, I am today without my teachers’ advocacy for experiential learning experiences (both in the classroom and on the Georgia coast). I hope to reciprocate my gratitude to those teachers by providing similar experiences to any student who visits the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium throughout the remainder of the fellowship.